An 18-year-old student walked into his school in Crimea, pulled out a shotgun and opened fire on Wednesday, killing 19 students and wounding more than 50 others before killing himself.
It was not clear what prompted Vladislav Roslyakov, described as a shy loner, to go on the rampage.
A security camera image carried by Russian media showed him calmly walking down the stairs of the school in the Black Sea city of Kerch, the shotgun in his gloved hand.
Officials said the fourth-year student killed himself in the library of the Kerch Polytechnic College after the attack.
His mother, a nurse, was helping to treat victims at a local hospital after the shootings, unaware yet that her son was accused of the rampage and was already dead.
Such school shootings are rare, and Wednesday’s attack was by far the worst by a disgruntled student in Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
The bloodbath raised questions about school security in the country; the Kerch Polytechnic College had only a front desk with no security guards.
By the end of the day, Crimean authorities said the death toll stood at 19, apparently not including the shooter.
Fifty-three people were wounded, including 12 in serious condition.
The announcement that the shooter in Wednesday’s attack was a student who acted alone came after hours of rapidly shifting explanations as to what exactly happened at the school.
Officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device had ripped through the cafeteria during lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack.
Witnesses, however, reported that victims were being killed by gunfire. The Investigative Committee, Russia’s top crime investigation agency, eventually said all the victims died of gunshot wounds.
Reflecting the daylong confusion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the victims were killed by an explosion just as the Investigative Committee was announcing they were fatally shot.
A sombre Putin deplored the attack as a “tragic event” and offered his condolences to the victims’ families at a news conference in the southern city of Sochi, where he was meeting Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The Investigative Committee said the explosive device rigged with shrapnel went off in the school lunchroom and Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said it was homemade.
Officials later found a second explosive device and destroyed it.
It was not clear what the explosive was, if the attacker detonated it, or how many people it wounded.
Guns are tightly restricted in Russia. Civilians can own only hunting rifles and smooth-bore shotguns and must undergo significant background checks.
Roslyakov had only recently received a permit to own a shotgun and bought 150 cartridges just a few days ago, according to local officials.
Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, said the gunman had been described as a shy boy who had no conflicts.
“He wasn’t aggressive, he was rather timid,” Aksyonov said, speculating that Roslyakov might have “watched some movies” that inspired him to go on the shooting spree.
Some Russian news reports said the shooter had left his backpack containing the explosive device in the cafeteria and remotely detonated it before he started shooting.
“I heard an explosion and saw glass shards and window frames falling down,” student Roman Voitenko said in remarks broadcast on Russian state television.
Another student, Semyon Gavrilov, said he had fallen asleep during a lecture and was awakened by the sound of shooting. He looked around and saw a young man shooting at people, he said.
“I locked the door, hoping he wouldn’t hear me,” Gavrilov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls.
Another student, Yuri Kerpek, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the shooting went on for about 15 minutes.